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VCU receives $8.8M to support employment of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor has received two major research awards totaling $8.8 million to coordinate a dozen studies across four universities that will focus on how to best provide training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

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By Brian McNeill

A Virginia Commonwealth University professor has received two major research awards totaling $8.8 million to coordinate a dozen studies across four universities that will focus on how to best provide training and employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Paul Wehman, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation in the School of Medicine with a joint appointment in the Department of Counseling and Special Education in the School of Education, received two five-year $4.4 million awards from the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research in the U.S Department of Health and Human Services.

“These two major research grants will provide synergy for VCU to be the predominant leader in the United States in the area of employment for individuals with intellectual disabilities and developmental disabilities,” said Wehman, who is also director of a VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center on Employer Practices for Individuals with Disabilities as well as director of the VCU Autism Center for Excellence.

The first award, “Employment of Persons with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD),” involves a consortium of researchers at VCU, as well as Vanderbilt University, the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kent State University, and includes six multiphase studies that will examine the effectiveness of different evidence-based interventions to support individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities in competitive employment. The goal is to help reduce the continuing high levels of unemployment among people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

One of these studies will be conducted in partnership with Dominion Energy in the Richmond area, enrolling individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities into different jobs and seeking the best strategies for recruitment, training, job placement and retention. The new center will work closely with the Dominion Energy DiverseAbility Employee Resource Group.

The second award, “Transition to Employment for Youth with Disabilities,” will also involve research at VCU, Vanderbilt, University of Wisconsin-Madison and Kent State. It will focus on pre-employment training for younger adolescents, postsecondary and supported college education training for universities that are serving students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, as well as internships for youth with emotional, learning and behavioral disorders.

One of these studies, to be conducted at VCU, will investigate the effectiveness of an internship program called Start on Success that incorporates a career and technical education course followed by paid work experiences for high school students with psychiatric or learning disabilities. The focus of the program is to keep students at risk of dropping out to remain in school and graduate.

“We congratulate Dr. Wehman and his team for this exciting work and grant award. This research will address a critical need for our society — the employment of those with disabilities and build the diversity of our workforce,” said Peter Buckley, M.D., dean of the VCU School of Medicine and the VCU Health System executive vice president for medical affairs.

Andrew Daire, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education, said the school is excited about Wehman’s work and the work of the VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center.

“RRTC is a critically important center in the School of Education and its impact puts into practice our vision to be a leader in responsive, needs-driven and research-based educational practices that transform the lives of those we serve in our communities, especially those who have been historically marginalized,” Daire said.

Both awards are Rehabilitation Research and Training Center grants that fund coordinated, integrated and advanced programs of research, training and information dissemination in topical areas specified by the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research. These centers conduct research to improve rehabilitation methodology and service delivery systems; improve health and functioning; and promote employment, independent living, family support, and economic and social self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities.

Wehman is the founding editor of the Journal of Vocational Rehabilitation. His background is highly interdisciplinary and he is internationally known for his pioneering work in the beginning of supported employment in 1980, a rehabilitation intervention strategy that has helped millions of people with neurodevelopmental disabilities, brain injury, mental illness and spinal cord injury in countries around the world to gain competitive employment for the first time.

“Dr. Wehman is a preeminent researcher in this field who has built the foundations of supported employment more than a quarter century ago and we are excited about how he is moving the field forward,” said David Cifu, M.D., chair of the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation.

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UMFS opens new $11 million residential center to enhance youth behavioral, mental health treatment

After an investment of more than $11 million, a longstanding residential treatment program that delivers trauma-informed care to youth working to overcome emotional and behavioral challenges has created a new multipurpose treatment center focused on healing.

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After an investment of more than $11 million, a longstanding residential treatment program that delivers trauma-informed care to youth working to overcome emotional and behavioral challenges has created a new multipurpose treatment center focused on healing.

UMFS, a statewide nonprofit leader in child and family services, has officially unveiled the transformation of its Child & Family Healing Center (CFHC). The state-of-the-art center took a year to complete. Previously, youth enrolled in CFHC lived in five separate cottages, originally built in the 1950s.

The 33,600-square foot center includes five residential suites, each accessible by separate entrances. Designed intentionally to promote safety and complement program enhancements, CFHC’s five identical suites each have a common area, full kitchen, group therapy room, family room, meeting space, and 10 private bedrooms and bathrooms. The center, which includes office space for administration and staff, can accommodate 50 youth.

CFHC serves youth ages 11-17 who are experiencing mood and anxiety disorders, emotional, social, and behavioral challenges and other traumas. Therapists, mentors, teachers, psychiatrists, nurses and other staff support the youth who live on campus as they focus on healing and building life skills.

“The new Child & Family Healing Center continues our long tradition of excellence in providing effective, high-quality residential care for youth,” said UMFS President and CEO Nancy Toscano, Ph.D., LCSW. “We intentionally designed the space utilizing a trauma-informed approach to promote healing in a safe and affirming environment. The upgraded center will help create normalcy while respecting a child’s need for independence during treatment.”

The center is one of the state’s only youth residential treatment programs to employ a “hybrid” security model, where youth can move freely throughout each suite and have supervised access to school, green spaces, a gym and other recreation on UMFS’ 33-acre campus. For safety, the building is regularly secured from evening to morning, and staff can secure each suite on an as-needed basis.

The CFHC marks the completion of Phase 1 of UMFS’ Be a Champion capital campaign, which aims to transform the educational and residential resources on its Richmond campus. Hundreds of donors and partners have contributed to the effort so far.

Phase 2 of the campaign is underway and will include an addition to the nonprofit’s Charterhouse School, a specialized educational program for K-12 youth who have special needs. The planned addition will allow UMFS to enhance its student services and expand programs. Demolition for Phase 2 will begin soon, and UMFS expects to break ground on the school addition this spring.

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Local Asian American Society of Central Virginia to host author and artist of new book

Author Joe Kutchera and artist Alfonso Pérez Acosta teamed up on the new coffee table art book, which features the portraits and stories of 22 immigrants who have come to Richmond from around the world to become our neighbors.

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The Asian American Society of Central Virginia (AASoCV) will host a local author and artist this weekend to present their new book, Portraits of Immigrant Voices, at its 24th annual Asian America Celebration tomorrow.

Author Joe Kutchera and artist Alfonso Pérez Acosta teamed up on the new coffee table art book, which features the portraits and stories of 22 immigrants who have come to Richmond from around the world to become our neighbors.

Alfonso Pérez Acosta painted the original portraits while Joe Kutchera wrote the personal histories. The author’s proceeds will benefit Afghan and Asian refugees who have settled in Virginia in a fund set up and managed by The Asian American Society of Central Virginia, a non-profit charitable 501(c)(3) organization.

The event is free and open to the general public. The pair will present the book on stage at 2pm and immediately following, AASoCV will host a book signing at 2:30pm. The book will be on sale for $40 at the event.

The 24th Annual Asian American Celebration features cultural performances, food, hands-on activities, exhibition booths, and merchandise from the Asian American communities in Central Virginia. This year’s theme is “weddings and our heritage.” The Celebration will take place at the Greater Richmond Convention Center at 403 North Third Street, Richmond VA 23219 from 11am to 7pm.

Learn more here.

The introduction to the book follows below:

Stories of Gratitude, Progress, and Manifesting Dreams

By Joe Kutchera

During the fall of 2020, following the George Floyd protests along Richmond’s Monument Avenue, I saw an African American woman wearing a t-shirt with this message in bold letters.

I am my ancestors’ wildest dreams.

As a (white) writer, I was stunned at how one sentence could leave me speechless and make me feel such a wide range of emotions. At first, I felt infinitesimally small, humbled by the brutal African American history behind that sentence, reflecting the violence and intimidation that Black Americans experienced during slavery and Jim Crow, which kept them from America’s prosperity. And seconds later, the sentence made me feel incredibly hopeful as it communicated that great progress and change is indeed possible, measured through a multi-generational lens, taking into account the sacrifice and suffering of previous generations. The formerly wild dream of freedom and opportunity is now, we hope, finally possible for African Americans today, though we still have a long way to go to ensure equitable outcomes for all Americans.

Many Americans may know Richmond, Virginia (RVA) for its history as the capital of the Confederacy with its Civil War Museum and the now-removed statues of Robert E. Lee and Confederate generals along Monument Avenue. The ugly history of slavery and the myth of the ‘Lost Cause’ permeate so much of the city, but a more complex and hopeful picture of its citizens is emerging.

In decades past, a majority of RVA’s population has been Black, with Whites representing most of the remainder of its population. Yet, a more multicultural, and even international population, is growing out of RVA’s Black and White history. The 2020 Census shows that RVA’s African American population fell below 50%, while its White population increased as a result of gentrification. Blacks appear to have left Richmond City for the suburbs (Henrico and Chesterfield Counties), where the Black population increased. Yet, the Asian and Hispanic/Latino population grew by double digits in Richmond City, Henrico and Chesterfield Counties, and the people who selected “some other race” and “two or more races” grew by triple digits. This reflects an increase in children of interracial couples, immigrants from Africa (distinct from African Americans), as well as ‘mestizos,’ or people of mixed races, from Latin America. However small those populations might be now, the growth rates indicate that RVA, like the rest of the country, is becoming much more diverse.

With this in mind, I am grateful to be working with the Asian American Society of Central Virginia in sponsoring the publication of this book. AASoCV represents 18 diverse Asian communities that have stood up against racism and xenophobia, as described by AASoCV’s chair, Julie Laghi, in the foreword. AASoCV provides a perfect example of how people from vastly different language groups can come together to build community and cultural bridges, thereby promoting tolerance and diversity.

AASoCV has enabled me and the team involved behind this book to take this project to the next level, furthering our mission to share immigrant stories and reflect on how they embody the American dream. Tida Tep, the daughter of Pim Bhut, featured on page 70, joins us to visually bring these stories into the printed medium.

Our project initially began in an organic way. In August 2020, around the time that I saw the “I am my ancestors’ wildest dream” t-shirt, I received a call from Karla Almendarez-Ramos, who manages the City of Richmond’s Office of Immigrant and Refugee Engagement (OIRE). She asked me if I would be interested in and available to write profiles of immigrants as a celebration for National Immigrants’ Day on October 28, 2020. Richmond-based Colombian artist, teacher and muralist, Alfonso Pérez Acosta, had pitched the idea to Karla after crafting his initial computer-drawn portraits.

I immediately told her yes, that I would love to work on the project. I have written about and reflected on the subject of immigrants’ journeys previously, both interviewing recent immigrants and researching my own ancestors immigrating from Eastern Europe to the United States. My wife, Lulu, migrated from Mexico, to join me in Richmond in 2013. And previously, I had migrated to Mexico and the Czech Republic for work, during different chapters of my life. As a result, I also understand the immense challenges that immigrants face when moving to a new country.

National Immigrants’ Day has been celebrated since 1986, but mostly in places like New York City. We wanted to bring this celebration to Richmond, Virginia to highlight the diversity of its community and the variety of languages spoken (in addition to English). With the support of a grant from Virginia Humanities, we unveiled the portraits on October 28th, National Immigrants Day, on RVAStrong.org/portraits and published updates regularly through Thanksgiving, to honor our subject’s themes of gratitude. The exhibit’s social media campaign ran through December 18th, which the United Nations has named International Migrants Day as a testament to humanity’s “will to overcome adversity and live a better life.”

Many of the people we featured came as migrants initially, moving to the U.S. temporarily for work or educational opportunities. While others came as refugees, fleeing war and violence. And still others came here simply because they fell in love with an American! Yet, they all became immigrants when they decided to settle down permanently in the United States.

Each portrait features the subject’s name, country of origin, and language, written in both English and their respective language. To create the color behind each portrait, Alfonso blended all the colors from each subject’s flag of their home country to formulate that single, albeit blended color. For example, the red and white in the Swiss flag become pink behind Dominik Meier’s portrait (on page 62). I wrote personal histories to accompany each portrait to shed light on the challenges of migration and displacement, as well as explore the commonalities of learning to speak English and integrating into American culture. Their stories showcase the incredible creativity and ingenuity of these immigrants in overcoming numerous obstacles in their journey, some of whom have gone on to start companies and obtain graduate degrees.

In speaking with everyone we featured in this book, they have taught me how Richmond is a far more diverse and dynamic city than I ever realized. They truly appreciate America’s freedom, democracy, and the way that their neighbors have accepted them. As a result, I see Richmond and the United States through their eyes. In listening to their stories, I get the sense that they, too, have accomplished their dreams, and in some cases, even their ancestors’ wildest dreams.

“Virginia is for lovers. … But we need to keep that slogan alive,” says Mahmud Chowdhury, originally from Bangladesh (#19 in the series), referring to the state motto of Virginia. “Let’s continue to love each other, be our brother’s keeper and have each other’s back,” says Hannah Adesina, from Nigeria (#17 in the series). Immigrants are here “to demonstrate the best of ourselves, manifest our hopes and dreams,” says Brenda Aroche, from Guatemala (#13 in the series). And Ping Chu from China (#12 in the series) encourages us all in saying, “We need to build up a united country. This is the United States, right?”

The United States has an individualistic culture with an “I” oriented English language. Even though that is the case, the immigrants featured in this book have taught me that when we work together and support one another, WE can become our ancestors’ wildest dreams.

When Chinese New Year celebrations took place on February 1, 2022, the same day that Black History Month began, I learned that 2022 was the year of the tiger. I realized that 2022 couldn’t be a more perfect year for us to launch this book with a symbol of bravery, courage, and strength on our side.

Joe Kutchera is the author of four books and the founder of Latino Link Advisors where he develops digital marketing and content strategies, with an emphasis in reaching the U.S. Hispanic market.

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Education

Inauguration of University of Richmond’s 11th president slated for April 8th

The inauguration of Kevin F. Hallock as the University of Richmond’s 11th president is a celebration of the UR community and will showcase student research, a conversation on higher education with presidents, live music, food, and fireworks. The event is open to the public.

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The inauguration of Kevin F. Hallock as the University of Richmond’s 11th president is slated to be a celebration of the U of R community and will showcase student research, a conversation on higher education with presidents, live music, food, and fireworks. The event is open to the public.

“Inauguration affords us an opportunity to take stock of where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re going as an institution,” Hallock said. “I’m immensely proud to be part of a community that has worked so hard to empower students of all backgrounds to take full advantage of the outstanding and distinctive education we offer.”

The event schedule includes:

  • Celebrating Spider Success in Mentored Research: A Discussion, 3 p.m., April 7, Queally Center for Admission and Career Services
  • Inauguration Ceremony, 10:30 a.m., April 8, Robins Center
  • Community Festival, 12:30-3 p.m., April 8, Westhampton Green
  • The Future of Higher Education: A Conversation with University Presidents, 3:30 p.m., April 8, Queally Center for Admission and Career Services
  • Evening Celebration, 7-9:45 p.m., April 8, Millhiser Green in front of the Well-Being Center
  • Spring Football Game (scrimmage), 1 p.m., April 9, Robins Stadium

All events are open to the larger community, and those planning to attend in person should register. Livestreams will be available for several events.

During the inauguration ceremony, Hallock will speak about five priorities: access and affordability, academic excellence, belonging, well-being, and engagement with the greater Richmond community.

“We’ve already done so much terrific work in all of these areas, but as I’ve listened and learned from our community’s diverse views, I’ve recognized we can and should do even better in these areas and invest more of our energy and resources going forward,” Hallock said. “Everyone cares and wants to make the University of Richmond even better. I share that commitment and am so grateful to be a member of this amazing community.”

Prior to coming to Richmond, Hallock spent a total of 26 years on the faculties of the University of Illinois and Cornell University. Most recently, he was dean of Cornell University’s SC Johnson College of Business.

An award-winning teacher, Hallock is a labor market economist and author or editor of 11 books and more than 100 publications. His research has focused on the gender pay gap, executive compensation, and job loss. He earned a Bachelor of Arts in Economics from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and a Ph.D. in economics from Princeton University.

He is a fellow of the National Academy of Human Resources and a research associate at the National Bureau of Economic Research.

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